Eudaemonic Pie

Book Card  -  Volume 25  -  Book Review Number 2  -  Wed, Sep 2, 1992 5:06 PM

TITLE: The Eudaemonic Pie
AUTHOR: Thomas A. Bass
PUBLISHER: Penguin Books

One of the best classes I ever took in college was an Honors course on the Mathematics of Gambling. There were only three students which, with Professor Reid, was just enough for a daily game of poker. While playing cards and studying difference equations, Dr. Reid (who didn't give a whit about his PhDs, but was deeply proud of once being thrown out of a Las Vegas Casino) told us many strange and wonderful stories. One of the most memorable of these was about a band of Stanford grad students who cleaned up at roulette by wearing toe-operated computers in their sneakers.

I now realize that Dr. Reid was even more in touch with the gambling underworld than I thought. There actually WAS a band of students winning at roulette with sneaker computers, and they were doing it even as we were taking this class. The only ones not in on the secret were the operators of the casinos. As it turns out, the real story is vastly more complex and entertaining than the rumours Reid shared and makes for a delightful book.

"Eudaemonic" is an Aristotlean term meaning "conducive to happiness." Eudaemonic Pie refers to a financial distribution scheme concocted by a zany assembly of "computer enthusiasts, physicists, and sunny California intellectual riffraff" in order to divide the winnings from their unlikely enterprise. The plan was to use the proceeds to establish the same sort of commune-cum-thinktank that I used to dream about as a lad. This book, then, is about the adventures of a group of ponarvians not unlike our own Archipelago.

If you can find this book, you will discover that the physics and engineering involved in outsmarting a roulette wheel have defeated some of the greatest minds of the last two centuries. And it is no small task to build a computer into a sneaker. Against all odds, the grownup remnants of a New Mexico boy scout troop, some nerds extraordinaire, and some of the loosest nuts ever to roll off a California campus, take on this challenge and do battle against the sinister forces of the Las Vegas gambling establisment. The results are sometimes hilarious, technically intriguing, full of suspense, and, in the end, mildly profitable.

This book is yet another example of the rise of the non-fiction epic. As a fiction writer I know only too well how hard it is to weave fantastic tales in a world in which the truth is stranger than any fiction.